Freedom of Information Act
A chara, – Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin writes that the “Freedom of Information Act is being restored” (“Labour must defend – not apologise for – its role in Government”, Opinion & Analysis, July 4th).
In removing section 16 of the current law and replacing it with a new section 8, the Minister is conferring legal authority on all public institutions across the State to decide what criteria will be published for the making of decisions, including decisions that affect citizens’ entitlements.
This is in stark contrast with the current law’s section 16, under which all public bodies must publish the criteria for making such decisions. The publication of such materials enables citizens to ensure that decisions are being made in a fair and consistent manner and that like cases are being treated in a similar fashion.
The proposed code of practice and guidelines are not legally binding and in any event, almost an entire year after the Bill’s publication, the much-vaunted code of practice and guidelines have still not been published for examination by our elected legislators.
The apparent removal of upfront fees is a welcome development but the removal of the protections enshrined in section 16 will be a grim piece of work for democracy and for those who have neither the financial resources nor the capacity to protect their rights in the courts.
Those with sufficient financial resources will continue to be able to vindicate their rights in the courts. Section 16 went some distance in expanding that potential to those not so financially enabled to protect those rights.
Let us hope Mr Howlin will retain section 16 and improve it, rather than the proposed disaster for law-based transparency and accountability that will ensue upon its abolition. – Is mise,
Ballyfermot, Dublin 10.